Farm Center: We're here for WI farmers

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer

Falling prices, rising input costs and a never-ending stream of dreary commodity outlook reports only add to the stress of being a farmer nowadays.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) wants farmers to know that Farm Center staff are available to help them navigate the ups and downs of agriculture.

USDA's Economic Research Service on farm household income indicates that for the past 21 years, more than half of farm households are losing money from farming.

So, what's a farm family to do? The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) wants farmers to know that Farm Center staff are available to help them navigate the ups and downs of agriculture.

"We know that stress is high right now for dairy, livestock and crop farmers alike," said Farm Center Director Kathy Schmitt in a news release. "Sometimes it can be hard to see possible alternatives in tough situations. That is where we can help."

Each year the Farm Center hotline fields around 2000 calls from farm families. The hotline was established over 30 years ago during the farm crisis of the 80s, said Daniel Smith, administrator of DATCP's Division of Agricultural Development.

"Back then it was looked upon as a crisis management tool. However, we've worked hard to make it more proactive where we like to say we work on any opportunity or challenge that a farm family faces."

Dan Smith, division administrator of the Division of Agriculture Development shares his thoughts on the impact the economic downturn is having on Wisconsin farmers during the first of several national Rural Prosperity Roundtables led by  Anne Hazlett, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development at the Willmore Center at Ripon College on Feb. 5.

What that being said, Smith says half of those calls to the confidential hotline are financial in nature or focused on farm succession planning. Other free services include conflict mediation, production challenges or new market opportunities.

Following that first call, Farm Center staff works one-on-one with farmers and their families through all phases of the farm cycle, including start-up, growth, change, generational succession and retirement.

"Farming is a complicated and demanding business," Schmitt said, "and it's helpful to have someone there to providing support, suggestions and encouragement, whether it be family, friends, or counseling services." 

A 2016 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people working in agriculture – including farmers, farm laborers, ranchers, fishers, and lumber harvesters – take their lives at a rate higher than any other occupation. The data suggested that the suicide rate for agricultural workers in 17 states was nearly five times higher compared with that in the general population.

"We know that chronic stress can have negative effects on our bodies, emotions and ability to make decisions, and everyone gets a case of the blues now and then, but sometimes the blues turn to depression," Schmitt said. "Depression is a serious, but treatable medical condition."

Kathy Schmitt

Signs of depression include increased use of alcohol and drugs, decline in personal or farm appearance, reduced interest in activities, irritability, exhaustion or negative thoughts.

Those observing symptoms should call the Farm Center staff, doctor or counselor.

"In agriculture we're used to the cyclical nature of prices, production and weather cycles constantly changing," Schmitt said. "The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone in these challenges."

For Help

To visit the Farm Center visit or call the Farm Center hotline at 1-800-942-2474.